"Magus" starts the one show I have been waiting for for almost a year. I had the privilege of seeing it at Comic Con last summer and have been anxious for others to join ever since. I wasn't disappointed and I hope you weren't either.
We know two things: Americans love reality shows and they love the Paranormal Activity series. Will they therefore love the pilot of The River, a scripted program that follows a simulated reality show by the director of the Paranormal Activity series, Oren Peli? Logic would say yes, but if there's one thing I have never been able to gauge, it’s the reaction of the scored viewing audience in these United States.
For 22 years the Cole family sailed around the world on the Magus filming "The Undiscovered Country." Much like Steve Irwin’s The Crocodile Hunter, Emmet Cole involved his entire family and, in doing so, made his program a worldwide sensation.
When we catch up with the Coles, Emmet has been lost and presumed dead. His wife, Tess, hasn’t given up hope, and neither has the network. Emmet Cole equals money. What better than a show following the loving wife and son of the beloved Emmet Cole try to find their missing patriarch?
Joined by past crew members and their family, cameramen and directors they travel into the deep recesses of the Amazonian jungle to hunt down Emmet’s emergency beacon. Nothing could have prepared them for what they found.
This is where the influence of Peli takes over and the real fun begins. Emmet has gone places no family man would go, investigating spirits and other unknown entities. The Magus holds no survivors, but instead an encapsulated spirit that is inadvertently let out by our erstwhile adventurers.
For me, The River works. Bruce Greenwood is “every man.” There is no doubt in my mind that if he was the lead on "The Undiscovered Country" as an actual television program, his show would last for 22 years. Greenwood’s career has the same staying power. A casual, comfortable performer, he is trustworthy and attractive. You want to believe him. Yes, there is magic out there. Emmet Cole told me so!
Choosing a relatively obscure cast for many of the main roles lends credence to the reality factor. Much like the Paranormal Activity franchise, it’s easy to believe these people are in the middle of this really freaky situation. When Lincoln and Lena are freeing the propeller from weeds and rushes, your mind jumps to the classic horror film: it’s going to start! Someone is going to lose an arm! But The River is a little more subtle than that.
Joe Anderson’s Lincoln Cole is the most compelling character, deeply affected by the torn life he had at the hands of his father’s desire to follow a dream under the never-ending spotlight of television. In a way, he believes his entire life was a lie, made up for the cameras.
One of my favorite moments was the schticky monster tossing around Sammy while the lead cameraman, AJ, lost his “balls” and jumped over the edge of the boat. You wonder, will every episode feature fun scenes with ghosties and ghouls? I hope so. While the genres are on a completely different spectrum, American Horror Story proved there is room on the small screen for horror. If done right, people will tune in.
It’s time to see if Oren Peli can do for the small screen what he did for the big.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.